Robin Williams was one of the most influential comedians of the 20th century. MRS. DOUBTFIRE makes full use of Williams’ comedic skills. He gets scenes that were clearly left in to showcase Williams improv ability. From silly to absurd (I am chuckling to myself as I write this, thinking of his impression of a hot dog), Williams was incredibly adept at flitting in and out of character at will.
But MRS. DOUBTFIRE is also one of Williams’ most tender and heart-wrenching performances. Supported by the great Sally Field, Williams’ role as a Daniel, a loving, yet childish, father has complexity and depth. It would be easy for his character to slip into a stereotypical bad dad but instead Williams plays the pain on the surface, downcasting his eyes and somehow making himself seem small and vulnerable.
Though the relationship with his kids is a central concern of the film, one of the most memorable scenes foregrounds how important performance and characters are to Daniel’s life — something his wife no longer seems to understand. Working behind the scenes at a studio, he sees an empty set with some dinosaurs on the table. He can’t help but go over. His longing to perform is palpable. He begins to make the dinosaurs dance and sing. He is performing for no one and being himself completely.
This almost desperate and manic need to entertain and connect with his audience was characteristic of Williams himself. No comedian has embodied that passion since, and it’s hard to fathom that any comedian could come close.